Season three was, shall we say, an interesting one in the Pyrenees. Full of frustration, terror, resignation, rejuvenation and then realisation, it was a year when the full challenges of managing LAP became clear to me.
I’ve mentioned the club’s crippling financial issues before, however, thanks to some tight wage control and the sale of some players we actually turned a tiny profit for the first time in the game. The French government then recognised this achievement by taxing most of it off us. Thanks!
Having survived a relegation battle and an emergency board meeting the previous season I vowed never to go through those traumas again. 2015-16 decided otherwise, however, and I experienced the same once more, but this time the spectre of failure haunting me was junked up on steroids and carrying a bazooka.
Read on for the nightmare that nearly was.
As the previous season choked its last breaths my contract was also in its final throes. Obviously I hadn’t exactly covered myself in glory but I was still in a job and surely that meant my signature at the bottom of document full of impenetrably-worded legalese? My board thought differently.
Rather than part ways, however, I was kept on with a month-to-month contract, meaning I had zero job security and zero chance of getting a mortgage. Obviously this meant we needed a decent start, and despite creating more chances than our opponents most weeks we typically walked away from matches with a point if we were lucky.
Chief tormentor and disappointment was Amadou Soukouna, a striker who on paper looks like a better version of the much vaunted FM14 bug Hamady Tamboura. Fast, with acceptable finishing, composure and dribbling, here was a player I signed who I felt could just about propel us into Ligue 2 on his own.
Instead, what I signed was a man who specialised in getting into one-on-one situations with the keeper and then hitting said keeper. Sometimes goalies didn’t even have to bother to dive as he chipped his shots into their waiting hands.
My new number one didn’t exactly hit the ground running either. Firstly dropping a corner onto the back of a player that trundled into his own net, and then pulling off this move. I know Shrew thinks his keeper being beaten from seventy yards is funnier, but really, this requires a level of precise ineptitude and slapstick keeping far beyond falling over your own feet.
I also had a midfielder – Taguelmint – who hated the ball being on the pitch. He would often receive it in space at his feet, look up, see an imaginary player fifteen yards beyond the touchline and smash it over to them. Not once did the match commentary imply or suggest that he was sportingly putting the ball out of play for an injured colleague or opponent.
My vice-captain, Guy N’Guesso, had a similar trick, but preferred to find isolated opposition full-backs. Despite giving both of them as specific instructions as I could that this was not acceptable neither ever paid any attention and carried on with their possession-ceding ways.
And so, thanks to this baffling combination of incompetence, ill fortune and sheer f*ck-wittery, I found myself not really in a relegation battle, but more being wheeled off to the relegation morgue.
After twenty-one games we had fourteen points and were seven short of safety. This despite the fact I had shut up shop with this formation for the previous four games, taking three points in the process.
Things looked very bleak indeed.
And then January came, and I pulled off probably my most successful mid-season transfer window ever. In came midfielders Cheikh Bangre and Florian David, attacker Anthony Fori and left back Michel Espinosa. Sure they ate up most of my remaining wage budget but the quality they brought to the team was undeniable and lead to a massive change in fortunes.
It wasn’t just on the scoreboard where we improved, but actually on the pitch too. Suddenly my midfielders were passing to each other, and I had a decent outlet on the left. Up front Fori gave us the option to either play him on the shoulder in my 4-3-3 or to link midfield and attack in that 5-3-2.
The next eight games yielded a mighty twenty-two points, and although we coasted after that we had stayed up thanks to those crucial matches.
But January only highlighted the main problem I have at LAP: attracting players. I signed those individuals because suddenly they were willing to talk to me – they’re nothing more than run of the mill National standard players. Most footballers released from teams in the league below us won’t even enter negotiations and in the three seasons we’ve played so far there’s probably only one player I chose not to sign that I regret missing out on.
I think it’s mainly down to the location and the reputation of the club, but it makes this job particularly difficult. Added to this is the fact that my facilities generally decline my players’ attributes and as I can’t develop youth players I’m in a continuing vicious downward spiral.
On top of struggling to find people to join me, I can’t ever find a decent level of friendly opposition, meaning pre-season is all about fitness and never about fine-tuning tactics. Effectively, I’m left to experiment when it matters most.
Maybe I’ll get luckier in the next few years and the number of chances I create starts to equate to the number of goals I score, but for the moment I’m fighting the reality that very few players actually want to play for me. A fact that underlines this is that in the past two years no transfer listed player has wanted to play for LAP.
With my reputation pretty low I’m also unlikely to be offered a better job (although I did sign a new contract in February) and so for now all I can do is hang around, scout as extensively as I can and hope that I can put together a squad that sees us escape this league via a positive exit.
It’s not going to be easy, but then if I wanted it to be easy I would have chosen to manage a team in less calamitous circumstances and with the odd cheat player thrown in.
Ed. Shrewnaldo – so here’s another poll. Which goal was more ridiculous. The goal Cannes ‘scored’ against Petr shown in the video above, or that scored by Gatzañaga against my Alavés side shown below? Not to sway your opinion in any way whatsoever but I feel it would be remiss of me not to remind you that Hércules’ goal knocked me out of the promotion playoff… Cannes was just another in a routine 3-1 win over some relegation fodder…